They acted on instinct and intuition. They decided on a course of action apart from the "normal." Acting in this way can bring failure, and sometimes bring success. Each of these 4 businesses not only succeeded, they spurred creative growth in the community and helped make New Braunfels what it is today.
When Pat Molak bought Gruene Hall in 1975, it was a dusty, 97-year old building. A small number of customers would visit the front area bar, and the dance hall area was closed to the public and used as a storage room.
Pat Molak and Mary Jane Nalley set out to put the dance hall back in use, cleaning up the place, making minor repairs where needed, and adding a new sign on the front.
Then, they left it the way it was.
No air conditioning was installed. No wall coverings. No extensive weatherproofing.
The key word here would be "authenticity." Imagine if someone else had bought the hall and proceeded to modernize it, air-condition it, and perhaps add new interior wall covering because...they felt it was necessary to do so.
The dusty, rattling old hall began featuring musical acts once again. I remember bands such as "Joe Bob's Bar & Grill Band" and "Ace in the Hole" in these early days of the "new" Gruene Hall.
You didn't see huge crowds packing the place back then. A musician who played Gruene during those times once told me "it was a hippie place, long-hairs from Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, and construction workers, all coming out to have a fun weekend."
A special sort of excitement was building around the "Hall." The Gristmill opened. The Gruene Mansion Inn opened. Buck Pottery opened.
It was a slow, gradual growth, and by the 1990's, the phenomenon that started with an old un-air-conditioned venue that didn't accept credit cards became a major tourist and music fan destination.
The Henry family owned Landa Resort, a small tourist resort in New Braunfels. Tourists came from Houston to stay in the Landa cabins and tube the river.
An old playground slide was installed at the resort. For some reason, people came down the slide really fast, maybe too fast. One of the Henry children, Jeff, made a dip in the bottom of the slide and filled it with water. A person coming down at a high speed would hit the water and slow down. The "water brake," by Jeff Henry.
Some small water slides were built at Landa Resort for the use of those who rented the cabins.
In 1979 the Henrys built a 60 foot structure with 4 water slides. The structure resembled a tower of the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany. This attraction was the beginning of "Schlitterbahn."
The Schlitterbahn slides were built in the middle of town, adjacent to a neighborhood. As the park grew, it meant gradually replacing homes...with rides and parking lots. However, a unique aspect of Schlitterbahn's growth and design was that trees and landscaping were part of the surroundings, instead of massive concrete pavement.
Many people in the city of New Braunfels were not welcoming Schlitterbahn with open arms. There were unhappy neighbors, and heated debates in City Council meetings.
Jeff Henry would prove to be the most innovative entrepreneur in the waterpark industry. By 1995, Schlitterbahn was the most popular seasonal waterpark in the nation.
During the 80's, Don and Lynn Forres worked jobs during the day, and restored old vintage homes during their spare time. They developed a reputation for finding and acquiring old houses that "nobody wanted" and restoring them in beautiful fashion, with attention to authentic detail plus creative flair.
Lynn Forres had been working in the restaurant business for almost 2 decades. The couple began contemplating the idea of starting their own restaurant.
One day they came across an old building that "nobody wanted." It did not have a "main street" presence. It was next to a busy railroad track (before the quiet zones). It was in poor shape and needed extensive remodeling. They had found "the building."
It was a small building located behind the much larger Holz Building in Downtown New Braunfels. Built in the 1920's, it first served as a storeroom, and as several restaurants and even a residence over the years.
It was early 1994. The restaurants in New Braunfels tended to fall into the "chicken fried steak & burgers" or "barbecue" category. Lynn and Don had something different in mind. As stated on their present-day website, they wanted to "draw from the diverse cultural and culinary influences of the Texas Hill Country for a fresh, new dining experience." Going even further out on a limb, in their initial plans, they would not feature chicken fried steaks and hamburgers.
Renovation began. The couple brought to this dream their experience in creative and beautiful restoration that had developed throughout the previous decade. It was a "knack" for taking old dilapidated places and giving them new life like no one else could. As with their residential properties, they participated in much of the work themselves.
It's important to note that during the 80's, the New Braunfels downtown had fallen on hard times. Some businesses had left, and several buildings had "For Sale" signs plastered on ther facade. In the early 90's a Main Street program had begun, and efforts were being made to increase interest in Downtown. In 1994, there were a few restaurants in the Downtown area, but there wasn't anything close to the busy nightlife you see now.
In October of 1994, Don and Lynn opened their restaurant, the Huisache Grill, and the plan was to rely solely on word-of-mouth.
Word spread quickly. There was a wave of enthusiasm growing for this completely new experience in New Braunfels - the menu, the wine list, the ambiance. The Huisache Grill would be a huge success and provide a significant new vision in the Downtown area.
If you listen to Mattson Rainer on KNBT FM Radio, or you read an interview with Mattson, it's easy to notice a couple of things.
One - He is very passionate about music and musicians. Two - He is determined not to let business and commercial interests change or make a dent in his caring about music and musicians.
Perhaps this is why he took part in a bold move that the radio station made in 1996. 92.1 had been a mainstream country station. Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw and other Country Top 40 artists were part of the daily broadcast. In 1996, Mattson and his associates decided to become an "Americana" station.
The idea of an "Americana" playlist had just been conceived in 1995. The trade publication Gavin had published such a list.
The Americana concept evoked realness, honesty, songs written from the heart (not at song-factories), music you might hear someone play on your front porch. Country, folk, bluegrass, roots-rock and blues would be included.
And there's more. The station would decide on the playlist, would play what they wanted to play. And they would feature artists broadcasting "live" at various times. And their playlist would include many small independent labels and even some local and regional artists.
There were not a whole lot of stations adopting this concept. And especially not going "all out" as 92.1 did.
A phrase we have heard often in the description of the Americana concept is "a way to bring performers, professionals and fans together to expand the visibility of the uniquely American music." This is what actually happened in New Braunfels. The station's philosophy attracted fans and musicians, some of whom ended up living here. The station put on special events, like the Annual Americana Music Jam. There is indeed a feeling of "realness," closeness, and true music appreciation.
The 92.1 radio Americana revolution played well with the already-in-place Gruene Hall music enthusiasm. New Braunfels became a "music city." In Downtown, the success of the Huisache Grill would inspire other restaurants, as well as "live music" bars to open up. Meanwhile, Schlitterbahn had already dramatically increased the visitor draw and the visibility of New Braunfels. All these changes began with creative individuals who chose to stumble along "the road less traveled."